For Single and Double Bike Trailers, the Features that Really Matter
“What should I look for when shopping for a bike trailer?” is not a simple question. Finding the right bike trailer to meet your family’s needs can be a complicated process. Luckily, we’re here to help!
Whether you’ll use your bike trailer just to bike, or as a stroller or jogger too, the 11 main criteria to help you choose the best trailer for your family are: 1) trailer type, 2) budget 3) trailer size, 4) weight capacity, 5) seat type, 6) wheels, 7) external covers & venting, 8) suspension, 9) storage, 10) stroller wheel attachments, 11) stroller brakes, and 12) adjustable handlebars.
1. Trailer Type
Determining how you plan on using your trailer is the first step in selecting the best trailer for your family. Trailers can convert to basic and deluxe strollers, high-end joggers, and can even be fitted with skis for cross-country use. Based on their ability to convert, we’ve sorted trailers into three main types: Trailer Only, Trailer + Stroller, and Multi-sport Trailers (options for stroll, jog and ski).
What Type of Bike Trailer Do I Need?
|TRAILER TYPE||Example Trailers||Bike Trailer||Occasional Stroller||Frequent Stroller||Frequent Jogger|
|TRAILER TYPE||Example Trailers||Bike Trailer||Occasional Stroller||Frequent Stroller||Frequent Jogger|
|Trailer Only||Burley Bee, Allen S1||X|
|Trailer + Stroller||Thule Coaster XT, Burley Honey Bee||X||X|
|Multi-Sport||Burley Encore X, Thule Cross||X||X||X||X|
Top of the line trailers that excel as bike trailers, and offer conversion kits to convert to joggers and/or strollers. Multi-sport trailers offer the most features, provide the smoothest overall ride, and start at $500. Burley and Thule Chariot are the most popular brands of multi-sport trailers.
- Best For: Families who want the highest-quality bike trailer OR active families who regularly use their bike trailer as a stroller or jogger.
- Conversion Kits: All multisport trailers come with a trailer arm. Most models also come standard with a stroller kit, while jogging kits are usually an upgrade. Burley, Thule and Croozer trailers offer cross-country ski kits as well.
- Our Top Picks: Thule Chariot Cross 2, Burley D’Lite X
TRAILER + STROLLER
Bike trailers that come with a stroller wheel attachment. These trailers offer less comfort features (i.e. no padded seats, suspension, recline) for the riders as compared to multi-sport trailers. Popular brands include InStep, Allen, and lower-end Burley and Thule trailers.
- Best For: Parents that will use the trailer primarily as a bike trailer, and occasionally as a stroller or a jogger.
- Our Top Picks: Thule Coaster XT, Burley Honey Bee
Dedicated bike trailers. Stroller and jogger attachments are not available for these trailers. Standard trailers range from $100 to $400, based on overall quality. Lower-end models provide the bare basics in trailers with NO comfort features. Higher-end models offer larger wheels and superior durability and ease-of-use, but not suspension or conversion kits.
- Best For: Families who do NOT plan on using their bike trailer as a stroller or jogger.
- Our Top Pick: Burley Bee
Trailers range from under $100 to over $1,000, and in most cases, the quality and performance of a trailer are reflected in its price. Higher-end trailers provide the most features and offer a smoother ride for parent and child, but can be heavy on the pocketbook.Lower-end trailers are sufficient for many families riding on paved surfaces but lack many safety and comfort features offered by mid-range and higher-end trailers. Top quality brands include Thule, Burley, Croozer and WIKE.
Advantage of Buying a More Expensive Trailer
|Example||InSTEP||Burley Bee||Burley D'Lite|
|High Weight Capacity||X||X|
3. Size of Trailer
SINGLE OR DOUBLE CAPACITY
Generally lighter, narrower, and more affordable. If you plan on carrying only one rider, a single trailer is generally always your best bet. Almost all trailers do not have a center buckle, so a single rider in a double trailer must sit on the right side. This actually gives the rider less room because they are sitting very close the side of the trailer. Single trailers offer one passenger more room on either side.
Can carry one or two riders (max capacity is generally 80 to 99 lb. of total child weight) and offer more storage. However, they are heavier, wider, and more expensive.
Double trailers are best for growing families, but remember that due to changes in stroller regulations, center buckles are no longer available in double trailers for single riders. As a result, a single child must sit to one side of the trailer. With a single trailer, they can sit in the center, which is generally more comfortable. Our top pick in double trailers is the Thule Chariot Cross 2 or the Burley D’Lite X.
INTERNAL CABIN DIMENSIONS
The internal cabin dimensions of trailers vary greatly. A difference in a few inches can provide much-needed headspace and shoulder space for riders, especially for older and/or taller riders.
The Burley Bee is exceptionally tall, while the Schwinn Trailblazer is very short in comparison. The Burley D’Lite models have bowed out sides for extra shoulder space for taller riders. WIKE is larger overall to accommodate riders past 5 years old, especially families that have special needs children.
Be sure to check and compare the shoulder space and sitting height of a few trailers to make sure that your choice will fit your child as long as you want them to ride with you.
4. Weight Capacity
Weight capacity as stated on manufacturers’ websites can be misleading. Most single trailers have an indicated weight capacity of 75 lbs., while double trailers are 100 lbs. Smaller, lower-end trailers have a lower total weight capacities.
However, this stated weight includes kids + cargo, and trailers are only safety rated for a very specific amount of child weight. For example, the Burley D’Lite single has a weight capacity of 75 lbs, but a maximum child weight of 40 lbs.! The Burley D’Lite double has a weight capacity of 100 lbs, with a maximum two child weight of 80 lbs.
Usually these more specific weight limits are only found in user manuals, which you can download. You should never assume that the weight limit listed on the manufacturer’s website is for the weight of the child.
5. Seat Type – Hammock or Bench
Found on basic trailers, the seat is created by stretching a thick piece of fabric between the sides of the trailer. The seat is sometimes supported by nylon straps. These seats have minimal support and sag. When riding with two passengers in a hammock seat, they will converge into the center of the trailer, which is certainly not the most comfortable.
Not all hammock-style seats are created equal, however. Hammock seats on Burley and Thule trailers are certainly better and offer more support than those found on entry-level InStep trailers.
Found on high-end trailers, the seat is a padded bench that prevents sagging. These supportive seats are more comfortable overall and also provide more leg room for riders. They make it much easier to load and unload kids, because the bench is supporting their weight away from the buckle.
6. Wheels & Maximum Speeds
16″ and 20″ tires are available on bike trailers. 20″ tires are worth the upgrade as they absorb bumps in the road much better than 16″ tires, resulting in a smoother ride for both parent and child. To save on costs, trailers with 16″ tires often have plastic rims, which are prone to cracking and warping.
20″ tires on metal rims offer the best performance and are available on trailers in all price ranges. Trailers with 20″ tires generally have a maximum recommended speed of 15 mph, while those with 16″ tires max out at 10 mph.
7. External Covers & Venting
Plastic Rain Covers
While riding in the rain is rarely someone’s intention, keeping your child dry and warm is a concern for many that live in wet climates. Almost all trailers come with a permanently attached rain cover that rolls up when not in use. Rain covers on lower-end models secure with elastic bands while mid and high-end models often secure with a zipper.
Burley trailers – based out of rainy Portland, Oregon – provide excellent weatherproofing with rain covers that attach with zippers on their Encore, D’Lite, and Cub models. The Bee and Honey Bee use a more simple velcro system.
Thule’s lower-end and mid-range Coaster, Cadence, and Cheetah XT models have rain covers that secure via Velcro, while the high-end Lite and Cross models come with an entirely removable rain cover secured by elastic bands. Thule’s removable rain cover encompasses the top and sides of the trailer for superior protection from the rain, wind, and cold.
To keep the glaring sun out of a child’s eyes, high-end trailers come with sunshades. Burley’s system is built-in and slides up and down on the D’Lite and Cub, but is stationary on the Burley Encore.
Thule’s high-end sunshade snaps on and off and slides up and down the front metal rails of the trailer. It’s the best sunshade on the market, and reason alone to upgrade to a Thule Cross or Lite. Mid-range models like the Chariot Cheetah XT are shorter and act more like a visor.
The side windows on all trailers are plastic. UV-blocking windows are available on all Burley, Thule, and Hamax trailers, but are not found on entry-level trailers like Allen or InStep.
Suspension can make the difference between a smooth, comfortable ride, and a whiny, “I want to go home” ride. For families sticking to smooth pavement, suspension shouldn’t be a priority, but for those riding on all-terrain surfaces, it can be a life saver.
Several different suspension systems are available, but we’ve found no significant difference in their performance. Adjustable suspension found on the Burley D’Lite, Cub and the Thule Cross and the Hamax Outback adjust to fit all families but are particularly suited for families carrying either really light or heavy kid(s).
All trailers have a storage area behind the seat to store kid and trip essentials. Most trailers provide plenty of room for jackets, a diaper bag, lunches, basketball-sized balls and much more. Large, stiff items, like a small cooler, rarely fit in the trunk space and if they do, they tend to poke into the backs of the child riders.
The shape of the trailer greatly determines the amount of storage space available. Burley’s spacious, flat-bottomed storage area is larger than most and is excellent for carrying things like scooters after you’ve dropped the kids off at school. The storage area on the Thule Cheetah XT, Lite and Cross is significantly smaller but the trailer is much less bulky.
Handlebar console storage is also available for handy storage of water, keys, phone etc. while in stroller or jogging mode. Burley and Thule both offer handlebar consoles as an upgrade. Thule’s attaches to the frame of the trailer and remains stationary when the handlebar is adjusted or flipped for trailer mode. Burley’s console stretches between the handlebars and moves along with the handlebar as it is adjusted or flipped.
10. Stroller Wheel Attachments
The type of stroller available on trailers varies widely. In fact, the most common complaint about trailers is in regards to their stroller attachments. If you plan to use your trailer as a stroller, be sure to purchase a trailer that converts to the type of stroller you want.
(1) Tow Arm Swivel Stroller Wheel: A small, plastic swivel wheel is attached to the trailer arm. It flips up and out of the way when in bike trailer use and flips down for use as a stroller. When in use as a stroller, the trailer arm sticks out about 1.5 feet past the cab of the trailer and is therefore not ideal for crowded areas. Examples include the InStep Sierra Double and the Burley Honey Bee.
The quality of this set-up is very basic on cheaper trailers like InStep or Schwinn, but functions very smoothly on higher-end trailers. This style of wheel comes standard on all Burley trailers that convert to strollers.
(2) Attached Single Swivel Stroller Wheel: Very similar to the two arm swivel stroller, but is connected to the body of the trailer rather than the trailer arm. Pushes smooth and easy, but is not as maneuverable as four wheels when on uneven surfaces. Our top choice in this category is easily the exceptional Hamax Outback.
(3) Dual Swivel Stroller Wheels: This is the most functional and easy-to-use stroller type. Two small, plastic wheels attach underneath the front of the trailer body. Since the wheels are tucked in, it makes for easy steering and maneuverability. Thule Chariot models come standard as a four-wheeled stroller, and Burley multi-sport trailers offer it as an upgrade.
(4) Stationary Jogging Wheel: Jogging wheels are designed to track straight while running, so their front wheel does NOT swivel. A true jogging wheel is also at least 10″ in diameter and is pneumatic (air-filled) to provide smooth rolling.
To turn a jogging trailer, you must push down on the back wheels and pivot the trailer while the front jogging wheel is in the air. All multi-sport trailers come with or have the option to purchase a jogging wheel. Examples include the Allen SST (single), and the Burley Encore X.
11. Stroller Brakes
All trailers that are sold with an option for a stroller are required to include a brake. The types of brakes range from a simple strap around a tire to a hand brake on the handlebars. While brakes are of minimal concern when used as a trailer, as a stroller or jogger, a well-designed parking or hand-brake can make a world of difference.
Foot Brake: Similar to typical stroller brakes, foot brakes are engaged with the foot and lock the rear tires. They do not slow the trailer down like handbrakes. Foot brakes can be found on trailers of all prices ranges and vary from pushing down with your foot, to sliding it across the base of the trailer with your foot.
Hand Brake: Designed to slow a trailer versus completely stop it, like parking and foot brakes, hand brakes can be life-savers for joggers and parents navigating hills in stroller mode. The most universal hand brake is available as an upgrade on the Thule Chariot Lite and Cross models and can be used in stroller or jogging modes. The Hamax Outback jogging upgrade is the only jogging kit to come with a hand brake, but activates the front jogging wheel and cannot be used in stroller mode.
12. Adjustable Handlebars
An adjustable stroller handlebar greatly improves the usability of a trailer in stroller or jogger mode. Most trailers come with at least two heights, achieved by flipping the handlebar and reattaching it to the trailer.
Higher-end trailers including all Burley strollers, the Thule Cross and Lite, and the Hamax Outback come with a swiveling handlebar that offers multiple heights. Swivel handlebars are ideal for couples with great differences in height. Multiple-height handlebars can be adjusted within seconds, while dual-height handlebars take a bit longer and don’t offer as precise a fit.
While all trailers fold down for easy storage, some fold down more easily and smaller than others. If you have a small trunk or limited space, be sure to check the dimensions of the folded trailer to ensure it will fit in the space you desire.
Most trailers we’ve tested make folding down and transporting a trailer a breeze. However, Allen Sports trailers are not as easy to fold and would make frequent transportation and re-assembly a bit of a pain.
The design of the trailer hitch determines how smooth of a ride you and your child will have. Most trailer companies (InStep, Schwinn, Allen) use a standard hitch.
High-end brands (Thule, Burley, Croozer) use their own unique designs that fit more precisely, resulting in less “give” and pull-back from the trailer as you ride. All hitch designs sold in the US flex to allow the bike to be placed on the ground while keeping the trailer upright for easy loading and unloading.
15. Infant and Baby Inserts
While it is not recommended to haul kids less than a year old in a bike trailer, many trailers convert into excellent strollers and joggers. To provide additional support for infants and babies, Thule, Burley and Hamax offer various inserts for use in stroller mode. Lower-end trailers do not offer inserts and are not safe to use with infants and babies.
Check out our article all about the benefits of the Thule infant sling for new moms!
Burley vs. Thule Chariot Comparison Guide – An easy reference guide to help you decide between the two best brands.
10 Best Bike Trailers – Check out our favorite trailers for every budget.
7 Best Trailer Cycles – A unique alternative to traditional bike trailers.
International Bike Fund – Child Bike Seats vs. Trailers for Infants: For an interesting discussion on the safety merits of child bike seats vs. trailers and trailer cycles by a non-profit international biking group.